Published: November 21, 2017
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Catalog Photos Courtesy James D. Julia Inc.
FAIRFIELD, MAINE – Jim Julia’s three-day firearms sale, October 31 to November 2, offered close to 2,000 lots of collectible firearms and related items. Nine items sold for more than $100,000 each and hundreds sold well into five figures. Many pieces were historically important, having connections to figures such as George Armstrong Custer. Bidding was particularly strong for Confederate weapons, shotguns, Colts, edged weapons, cased sets, flintlocks and other early pieces, weapons with exceptional decorative engraving and guns used in the American West. You could even have bought a real tank.
Julia’s catalogs are always comprehensive and well done, but the catalog for this sale was exceptional. Most lots were illustrated with several photographs, condition meticulously described and attributes and historical context, if any, explained in detail. The two catalogs comprised more than 1,200 pages and they weighed nine pounds. Short biographies of the major consignors were included. Julia’s website encourages bids on unsold lots, so the gross of $14 million, recorded at the end of the three days, continues to grow.
Julia’s sales are fast-paced, in this case, selling more than 100 lots an hour. One of the guns that sold for more than $100,000 came up about 15 minutes into the sale. It was a well-documented Winchester Model 1873 “One of One Thousand” lever-action rifle with an octagonal barrel. These rifles were part of Universal Studios publicity campaign to promote the 1950 Jimmy Stewart movie Winchester ’73. “One of One Thousand” was engraved on the barrel. The ownership of this rifle was documented with letters and certifications as to authenticity obtained by previous owners. Three phone bidders competed, and the final selling price was $103,500.
Confederate weapons and those made in Southern states before the war drew strong, competitive bidding from dealers and collectors in the room, often with several absentee bids along with internet and phone bidders. Many of these pieces came from the collection of Morris Racker, who died in 2016. His collection was comprehensive, and he sought particularly rare and unique Confederate items. One of his items turned out to be one of the top-selling items in the overall auction. It was a rare Confederate sharpshooter’s rifle made by the Whitworth Rifle Company, with a unique 52-caliber hexagonal barrel, and it included its telescopic sight. Larry Smith, a collector from Richmond, Va., drove up specifically for the sale and bought this gun, along with a few other pieces from the same collection.
He paid $161,000 for the rifle and said, “I wanted to own one of these before I died. Only a handful of these rifles are known to exist and this one has its original scope. Not many do. Using these rifles, Confederate sharpshoooters were able to kill their targets from about a mile away. They targeted Union officers and artillery gunners because if they were a mile away, only cannon shot could reach them. These were very expensive guns when they were made, costing around $1,000, and there were only about 20 men in the Confederate army who were able hit targets at that range. The Union army did not have a comparable capability. I’m really delighted to have bought it.” Included with the rifle was extensive documentation and a battlefield-recovered Whitworth bullet.
Understandably, items with a connection to General George Armstrong Custer and the Little Big Horn battle are extremely popular with collectors. A National Arms Company derringer that had belonged to Custer sold for $17,250. According to the catalog, “this is one of the few firearms in private hands with documentation direct to General Custer” and its provenance includes Custer’s wife, Elizabeth, and their son, George A. Custer II.
The sale also offered a Springfield 1873 carbine that had belonged to the only soldier who rode with Custer that day who survived. John Martin was Custer’s bugler and was with Custer at the battle of Little Big Horn. Custer saw the need for more ammunition and sent Martin with a note to Captain Benteen asking for assistance. As we know, that assistance did not materialize but Martin survived, although all others who were with Custer died. This particular gun did not sell and may still be available. The catalog has a four-page discussion of Martin, Benteen and this rifle.
Shotguns did very well. Leading the selection, selling for $166,750, was an A.H. Fox 20-gauge “FE” shotgun with gold inlays, one of only three known to exist. The gun is heavily engraved and there are four gold inlaid dogs – pointers and setters. Only one other example is known with these inlays. That gun, a 12-gauge shotgun, had been used by the A.H. Fox Company as an exhibition model. It was also included in this sale, and sold for $86,250.
Another “FE”12-gauge model with a single trigger brought $92,000. These shotguns, and many of the other shotguns in the sale, came from the collection of Dana Tauber, who passed away earlier this year. A Winchester 20-gauge shotgun, Model 21, engraved “Custom Built for General Omar Bradley” reached $115,000. Five-star General Bradley was the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and instead of the usual engraved game scenes, there are five inlaid gold stars arranged around a pentagon. Bradley was the last of only nine officers to hold the five-star rank.
An important Parker 12-gauge “A1 Special” shotgun that had been illustrated in The Parker Story earned $142,600. Part of its provenance included the statement that “this gun was ordered in 1935 by Mr William Simpson, then chairman of the board for Marshall Field,” who “shot ducks and pheasants with it in northern Illinois until he sold it to a friend in 1967.”
The sale included a large group of Colts from the collection of Robert Roughton Jr, a retired automobile dealer from Virginia. Many of his guns had strong historical connections and many sold well into five figures. Included was a massive Colt Walker percussion revolver, weighing 4 pounds, which was part of a historic group of 1,000 guns made in 1847. These weapons were used in the Mexican War and later issued to the Texas Rangers and friendly Indians. Julia’s catalog description is two pages long and includes a full history of this revolver, which realized $94,875.
A few days after the sale, Jim Julia said, “I’m pleased to see that most portions of the market have recovered nicely. We had more absentee bids than we’ve had for any other firearms sale. Colts were strong, shotguns were strong, Confederate items were strong. The collection of Fox shotguns was probably the best ever to come to market. We grossed $14 million, and our high estimates for those lots that sold was about $10 million. There was a lot of interest in the mid-market things sold on the second and third days of the sale, which is always good to see. And, as in the past, historical associations definitely increase interest.”
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
For additional information, www.jamesdjulia.com or 207-453-7125.
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